Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cat Language?

Tonight I observed something that makes me wonder whether cats can communicate with each other on a verbal level.

I went into the kitchen for a bedtime swig of milk. My greedier cat, Tyrone, followed me in hopes of getting a second round of Pounce. He watched from the counter while I pulled the plastic ring off a new jug of milk, unscrewed the lid, and drank a few swallows. I recapped the jug, put it back in the fridge, and tossed the ring into the part of the empty dish drainer where drying silverware is wont to stand. I was simply too lazy to pull out the garbage can from under the sink and dispose of it properly.

I walked out of the kitchen and paused a few steps away. Already I could hear an annoying but familiar sound: the scraping, thumping sound of a cat drying to dig something out of the dish drainer. The odd part was that Sinead is the cat who likes to play with things like the plastic ring off a milk jug. But Sinead hadn't been in the room when I tossed the ring into the drainer.

I walked back into the kitchen to see what was going on. Sure enough, I caught Sinead jumping down from the counter, having already flipped the plastic ring onto the floor. I picked it up and binned it properly this time. But I also marveled, when I thought about it afterward. How had Sinead found out so quickly that I had hidden one of her favorite toys in the dish drainer? I had scarcely walked the length of the dining room before she found it. What instinct could have led her to it so fast?

Had she smelled the freshly opened milk and associated it with toys? Had she heard the click of a tiny, almost weightless strip of waste plastic against the plastic bottom of the dish drainer? Had she spotted the whole business from an unobtrusive vantage point? (Unlike Tyrone, Sinead rarely jumps onto the kitchen counter.) I don't know. As far as I know, she wasn't in the kitchen when I left it. Perhaps it was something Tyrone said to her? Did he, I wonder, yell out in a language outside the range of human hearing, "Hey! Sinead! Look what Dad just threw in the sink"?

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